When students are researching into advanced accounting licensures, they will notice that there are more options out there than just a CPA. While it might be tempting to go for a license that requires less cost and fewer exams, it is a good idea to clarify whether it will allow you entry into the field that you hope to work in one day. As such, we have provided you a brief overview of the distinction between a CMA and a CPA. Elsewhere, we have also written comparisons between an ACCA and a CPA, a CPA, Accountant and Bookkeeper, and an EA and a CPA. We hope that these help!

What is a CMA?

CMA stands for a ‘Certified Management Accountant.’ It is a license that is available in the US and Australia. In the US, it is issued by the Institute of Management Accountants US (IMA). The CMA has an emphasis on corporate accounting and management accounting. They are largely involved in helping the business to make risk management, strategic, planning and budgeting decisions.  

What is a CPA?

A CPA is a ‘Certified Public Accountant’. These are accountants who wave passed the US Uniform CPA exam and received their CPA license from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). The AICPA is the largest accounting body in the world. Although the AICPA acts as a centralized body for the CPA, each state has slightly different rules and requirements for the exam

This license legally authorizes them to perform tasks that other accountants are not authorized to perform. This includes representing businesses for IRS audits, auditing and approving financial documents of businesses, compiling financial statements and preparing and authorizing tax returns, among other tasks. Their training is broader than that of a CMA.

Are there other differences between a CMA and a CPA?

  • The CMA exam comprises of two parts, while the CPA exam is divided into four parts
  • The CMA exams are held three times a year, each for a 2-month period, while the CPA exams are held throughout the year
  • The CMA requires 2 years of work experience to qualify, while the CPA work requirements vary from state to state. It is usually a 1-year requirement, though
  • A CMA always requires a 4-year bachelor’s degree from an accredited college/university or a related professional certification. Most State Boards require this for a CPA, but not all
  • CMA licenses need to be renewed annually, while this varies from state-to-state for a CPA
  • CMAs have an annual 30-hour CE requirement. This varies from state-to-state for CPAs
  • The CMA exam can be written prior to completing your Bachelor’s degree and work requirement, whereas this will vary from state to state for the CPA exam
  • There is no 150-credit requirement for the CMA license, while there is for the CPA license
  • The CMA is more specialized, while the CPA offers more opportunities
  • Both are internationally recognized, but a CPA carries more weight in the states
  • CMAs can work in industry, while CPAs can also work in public accountancy and represent clients with taxation

Does a CPA qualify as a CMA?

Although a CPA and a CMA are not the same licensure, CPAs can perform all the tasks of a CMA. The CMA will just be more knowledgeable in the areas of financial management. On the other hand, CPAs can work in public accounting and represent their clients for IRS audits and in authorizing tax returns, among other task that CMAs are not authorized in.